The holiday lights are shining, Christmas trees are on display, the carols are playing, and presents are wrapped. Many people look forward to the festivities like no other, and the anticipation is as heartwarming as the actual holidays.

But for others, the approaching holiday season brings a gut-wrenching dread. Whether it is the loss of a loved one, the limitations of the pandemic, family difficulties, or a scary diagnosis, the holiday season can amplify the losses. It isn’t the life we planned, and it certainly isn’t merry and bright.

Yet other people have expectations of us. There are parties planned, traditions to be repeated, and gifts to be opened. How best to be real about our feelings and take care of ourselves in the middle of the frenzy?

Creating a solid plan for navigating the season is time well spent. Here are five tips that may help alleviate the dread and curb the uncertainty.

Have Realistic Expectations

The holidays can be tough, especially for those grieving any kind of loss. In the first year, we don’t know what to expect. In year two and beyond, we expect ourselves to be “better,” (and others do, too).

My experience is that every holiday – national and religious – carries memories and traditions, and this is true year after year. As time goes on, we figure out what works best for us.

Often people ask if it gets easier. My experience is that it gets different over time and becomes something more manageable.

Expect there will be moments of happiness and sadness and that you may need time alone. Trust that you will do your best to navigate the moments as they come. Know that it will be messy and accept that that is okay.

Make Time to Feel the Feelings

If you plan to gather with family or friends, also carve out time to feel the difficult feelings that you’ll likely experience. This past Thanksgiving, my 9th Thanksgiving without my husband, I made time for a long walk.

As I walked, I felt the feelings, I ached for what was, I honored the pain that comes with great loss. I let it be there, and I experienced it fully. Later, when I was with a small group of family, I was more able to be present in the moments because I was not trying to sweep the difficult emotions under the rug.

Be Alert to People-Pleasing Habits

If you are a people pleaser, you will very likely want to make everyone happy during the holidays. Well-intended family and friends want you to “feel better” or “move on,” or at least look like you’re having fun.

If ever there was a time to put yourself on top of your priority list, it is now. What do you need during the holidays? What is best for you?

Make Decisions and Like Your Reasons

People who are grieving can struggle with decision making, and the holiday season presents yet another set of decisions to make. Will you attend in person? Spend the weekend? Host everyone at your house? Cook a full meal?

Keeping in mind your needs from tip #3, make your decision. There are no right or wrong decisions – only the decisions you make. Make a list of all the reasons for your decision. The trick to decision making is liking all your reasons.

Have Your Own Back

Having your own back means confidently standing by your decisions, no matter how others might feel. By having realistic expectations, setting aside time to feel, and banishing people pleasing, you have set yourself up to make the right decision for you.

You are looking out for yourself and your needs, and you like your reasons. Now it’s time to stand behind your decision, no matter what others think. It isn’t up for debate. “I’ve given it careful thought, and this is what feels right for me this year,” is a sentence worth rehearsing.

Are you dreading the holidays this year? If so, why? How much do the expectations of others influence your plans? In what ways have you had your own back?

Let's Have a Conversation!